Cycling in Goa down the Saligao hill

by Mel D’Souza

During my childhood in Goa, the village of Saligao was at the hub of three main roads that linked us with the town of Mapuça to the north, Calangute Beach to the west, and the ferry at Betim to the south.

The road going north was a straight 2-mile-long, coconut tree-lined avenue through a patchwork of paddy fields until it came to the village of Parra where it turned in a north-easterly direction towards the bus terminal in Mapuça.

The road to Calangute Beach led into open country dotted with fragrant cashew trees for about a mile before running over a straight causeway through lush paddy fields towards the imposing Church of St. Alex on the outskirts of Calangute village. After meandering through the village for a mile or so, the road ended at Calangute Beach.

The road to Betim wound its way up a hill to the Saligao Seminary, and down to the village of Pilerne before heading towards Betim through yet more paddy fields. Betim faced Panjim, the capital city of Goa, across the Mandovi River.

The junction where these three roads met was popularly known as “Peggy’s Corner” – named after Peggy Mascarenhas who lived at that spot in a home with a balcão (balcony) which commuters would use as a sheltered bus stop.

Of these three roads, the road to Betim had a bit of notoriety. On the ridge of the hill, near the Saligao Seminary, it ran past a banyan tree that marked the spot where Christalina drowned herself in a nearby well way back in the 1800s (or, as another version of the story goes — was murdered by her husband and dumped in the well).  It was said that this desolate spot was haunted by Christalina’s ghost, and I often wondered if this Goan ghost was not behind some of the brake failures that befell a few Goan cyclists as they coasted down the steep hill, something I experienced unknowingly when I was about ten years old cycling in Goa.

Cycling in Goa. Sketch by Mel D'Souza

It all happened one evening when my 26-year-old cousin, Santan Vaz, was giving me a cycle ride along the Goan village roads from Betim to Saligao. Santan had me on the crossbar of his bicycle as we were coming down the hill when… you guessed it… the brakes failed!

Santan was a very helpful individual who punctuated his speech with a head movement that made him come across as being a nervous fellow. But he was deliberate in his actions and he didn’t take risks. And he was a man of few words. However, when he realized that his brakes had failed while cycling down the Saligao hill, fear made him lose his voice completely. Meanwhile, as the cycle kept gaining momentum, I thought he was giving me a joy ride, and I kept looking over my shoulder and urging him to go faster.

The road had about six bends in it with a few long straight stretches between them that just made the cycle gain more speed. However, because the surface was not paved, it was marked with scattered sandy spots that Santan would head for in an effort to slow down the cycle while I kept pushing on the handlebar to keep us on the harder surface for a faster ride.

Anyway, after having skillfully negotiated the last and sharpest bend, Santan decided to apply the Goan cycling version of the emergency brake. He slid forward off the saddle, squeezing me against the handlebars of the cycle, and dug his heels into the dirt road to bring the bike to a grinding and dusty halt just before reaching Peggy’s Corner.

I turned around to thank Santan for the best cycling in Goa adventure  I had ever had when I noticed that he had a petrified look on his face and had broken out into a cold sweat. It was only after he had regained his speech that I realized what a close shave we had. But it was a fun ride – I wonder if other people cycling in Goa have had such thrilling experiences!


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